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for tbe Xtbrarp ot 
Tflniveraitp of Toronto 
out ot tbe proceefcs of tbe funfc 

bequeatbefc by 
B. pbillipe Stewart, ^s.H 

OB. A.D. 1892. 



Francis Thompson, 



THE 



Preston-born Poet f 

<with Notes on some of his works), 



BY 



JOHN THOMSON. 




PRESTON : 

ALFRED HALEWOOD, 

"THE TEMPLE OF THE MUSES," 

1912. \ 



PR, 



sz. 



Crozier A Co., 

Printers, 
North Rd., Preston, 



PREFACE. 



The idea of this brief outline of the life and works of 
Francis Thompson was suggested by the erection of the 
commemorative tablet on his birthplace, and by enquiries then 
made concerning his life and career. I am indebted to Mr. 
Meynell for permission to quote from Thompson's poems, to 
Sir Alfred Hopkinson for information as to the poet's stay at 
Owens College, and to the Rev. H. K. Mann (Newcastle-on- 
Tyne), for leave to reproduce the two photographs of Thompson 
which appeared in the Ushaw Magazine of March, 1908. I 
am also indebted to the Magazine articles referred to (particularly 
the Ushaw Magazine), and to the prefatory note by Mr. Meynell 
and the "appreciations" in the volume of Selected Poems 
issued by Messrs. Burns & Gates, Orchard Street, London, the 
Poet's publishers. 

JOHN THOMSON. 



44, Great Avenham Street, 

Preston, September, 1912. 



TO 

FRANCIS THOMPSON. 



THOMPSON, thy music like a deep stream flows 
From mystic heights, and mirrors as it goes 
The shades and splendours of that luring peak, 
Where poet-dreamers dwell, and tireless seek 
Their adequate strains ; and thy song is fed 
By cyclic hauntings from the cliffs of dread 
Thou perforce clomb, a wider world to scan, 
And catch lost echoes of the Pipes of Pan. 

From other sounds aloof thy music rolls, 

And men must hearken for it draws their souls : 

Now thrills with awe, and now with such sweet stress 

As linketh heart to heart in tenderness 

By dire compellings, none save those may wield, 

Whose birth-fused breath is fashioned for the yield 

Who reach the crowned gates, and entrance gain 

To highest Heaven, through the Arch of Pain ! 

j. T. 



FRANCIS THOMPSON, 

POET AND MYSTIC. 



Got songs, for ended is our brief, sweet play; 

Go, children of swift joy and tardy sorrow : - 
And some are sung, and that was yesterday, 

And some unsung, and that may be to-morrow. 

Go forth ; and if it be o'er stony way, 
Old joy can lend what newer grief must borrow : 

And it was sweet, and that was yesterday, 
And sweet is sweet, though purchased with sorrow. 

(F. Thompson), 



FRANCIS THOMPSON, poet and mystic, 
" master of the lordly line, the daring image, and the 
lyric's lilt," was born at Preston, on the 18th December, 
1859, in the house numbered 7, Winckley Street, now used 
as a solicitor's office. He was baptised at St. Ignatius' 
Church, in that town, on the 20th of the same month. 
His full name, as it appears on the register of births, is 
Francis Joseph Thompson ; but his first published poem 
having been signed " Francis Thompson," it was thought 
advisable that he should, as he ever afterwards did, adhere 
to the shorter form. The commemorative tablet placed, 



8 FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

on the lOlh August, 1910, over the doorway of the house 
where the poet first saw the light, gives his name in 
full. The tablet is the gift of Mrs. Catherine Holiday, of 
Hawkshead, (formerly of Preston,) and it is a sadly-curious 
fact that, only after many enquiries, could the exact place 
of birth of one destined " down the annals of fame to 
carry a name immortal " the greatest of his proud town's 
sons be found. 

The poet's father was Charles Thompson, a physician of 
some note locally a man (according to a writer in the 
Church Times, April 21, 1911) firm and kind, but some- 
what austere in discipline, and with no poetic instinct ; 
his mother, Mary Turner Thompson, formerly Morton. 
Both parents were Catholics : the mother a convert some 
years before her marriage. Francis was the second of the 
five children, all of whom were born in Preston. Two 
babies, Charles Joseph, the firstborn (who only lived a 
day), and Helen Mary, the fourth, are buried there. 

Dr. Thompson appears to have lived in several houses in 
Preston the one in Winckley Street, already mentioned; 
before that (probably from 1856 to 1858) at 12, St. 
Ignatius' Square ; and after the birth of Francis, first in 
Winckley Square; and later in Latham Street. Two of 
the doctor's children were born at the house in Winckley 
Square (No. 33) one in 1861, the other in 1862. It 
was whilst residing in Latham Street, in 1864, that his 
daughter Helen Mary died, and his last child was born. 
The doctor's removal to Ashton-under-Lyne towards the 



FRANCIS THOMPSON. 9 

end of 1864, while his three surviving children were so 
young, will account for that town being sometimes given 
as the poet's birthplace. 



Young Thompson was sent on the 22nd September, 1870, 
to Ushaw College, near Durham, well known at that time 
for its literary associations with Lingard and Wiseman, and 
later, with Lafcadio Hearn. Our youthful student soon 
evinced a remarkable love of books, and being specially 
indulged by his masters in his taste for the reading of the 
classics, he early distinguished himself in such subjects as 
their ample reading would naturally improve. Most of his 
leisure hours were spent in the well-stocked libraries, some- 
times, in his seminary days, behind a barrier of books 
erected as a protection from the " attentions " (catapults, 
bullets of paper, and the like) of his class-mates. He was 
not strong enough to take much part in the college games, 
and only in the racquet courts, at handball, did he attain a 
proficiency above the average. His companions relate 
that he was extremely fond of watching, and was accounted 
a good judge of, Cricket. Indeed, the " sunlit pitch " seems 
to have had a fascination for him which he never lost. 
Towards the end of his life he knew all the famous scores 
of the preceding quarter of a century : after his death, the 
averages of his cricket heroes, for over 30 years, most care- 
fully compiled, were found among his papers, and with 
them some verses on the absorbing game, in which the 
names of Hornby and Barlow appear. The verses, trivial 
and probably never intended for print, end : 



io FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

It is little I repair to the matches of the Southron folk, 

Though my own red roses there may blow ; 
It is little I repair to the matches of the Southron folk, 

Though the red roses crest the caps I know. 
For the field is full of shades as I near the shadowy coast, 
And a ghostly batsman plays to the bowling of a ghost : 
And I look through my tears on a soundless, clapping host, 

As the run-stealers flicker to and fro. 
To and fro, 

O my Hornby and my Barlow, long ago. 



The lines are not dated, but seem to have been called 
forth by an incident which occurred not long before the 
poet's death. It would appear that he had been invited to 
Lord's to see Middlesex and Lancashire, and had agreed to 
go ; but as the time for the match drew near, the sad 
memories of bygone days became too much for him. The 
pathetic interest of a composition so reminiscent of the 
" long ago " will be understood by those who know what it 
is to miss their favourite faces from the field of sport. It 
may be mentioned, in passing, that Thompson wrote a 
lengthy criticism of " The Jubilee Book of Cricket " in 
the Academy (September 4, 1897) a criticism full of 
Cricket acumen. 



Whilst at Ushaw, Thompson wrote a number of verses, 
some of which are still in the possession of the college 
authorities, or of college companions. In more than one, 
the quaint spelling and love of the older words which 



FRANCIS THOMPSON. 11 

marked his later works, are noticeable. It must be for 
others to say how far these early efforts exhibit the 
buddings of that exuberant genius, which was afterwards 
to display itself so wonderfully. Five such poems, 
" Lamente forre Stephanon," " Song of the Neglected 
Poet," "Finchale," "Dirge of Douglas," "A Song of 
Homildon," are given in full in the Ushaw Magazine 
for March, 1908. "The Song of the Neglected Poet," 
by its very title, cannot fail to excite interest among 
Thompson lovers. Its theme is the praise of poesy : 
the first three verses run : 



Still, be still within my breast, thou ever, ever wailing 

heart ; 
Hush, O hush within my bosom, beating, beating heart 

of mine ! 
Lay aside thy useless grief, and brood not o'er thy aching 

smart. 

Wherefore but for sick hearts' healing, came down poesy 
divine ? 



Mourn not, soul, o'er hopes departed, efforts spent, and 

spent in vain ; 
On a glorious strife we entered, and 'twas for a priceless 

stake ; 
Well 'twas foughten, well we've struggled, and, tho' all 

our hopes are slain, 

Yet, my soul, we have a treasure not the banded world 
can take. 



Poesy, that glorious treasure ! Poesy my own for e'er ! 
Mine and thine, my soul, for ever, ours though all else 

may be gone ; 

Like the sun it shone upon us when our life began so fair, 
Like the moon it stays to cheer us now our night is 
almost done. 



12 FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

The " Dirge of Douglas " has a martial ring : 

Let no ruthful burying song 

Lament the Earl of Douglas, 
But let his praises loud and long 
Echo the rocks and hills among, 
Poured from the lips of warriors strong, 
The doughty Earl of Douglas ! 



Bear him to his grave with a warlike pace, 
Sing no sad requiem o'er him; 

The mightiest he of all his race, 

He is gone, and none can fill his place ! 

Let the champion lie in his warrior's grace 
Where his forefathers lay before him. 



Neither in arithmetic, nor later in mathematics, was the 
young poet a success. Indeed, at the end of his college 
career, he had fallen to the last place in mathematical 
subjects. But in English and essay-writing he was often 
the first, both at seminary and college. On five only out 
of the twenty-one occasions in his seminary days when 
examinations in essay writing were held, did he fail to 
secure the top place. From these early com positions, many 
of which are still in existence, it would appear that battles 
and sieges were the favourite subjects in prose of the shy 
and gentle youth whose own battle of life was destined to 
be singularly severe and prolonged. One of his essays, 
"The Storming of the Bridge of Lodi," written for a 
speaker at the debating club in 1874 (the year Thompson 
passed from seminary into college proper), evoked con- 
siderable enthusiasm among his companions. 



FRANCIS THOMPSON. 13 

The seven years spent by Thompson at Ushaw stamped 
his after-life deeply with its religious atmosphere. He was 
orthodox through and through, " from within, from beneath, 
outward to his acts, upward to his poetry." If, as has been 
said by one, his poetry is spiritual even to a fault, it must 
be a " fault " the glory, doubtless, of his Alma Mater ! 

It was after our poet left Ushaw (whose peaceful groves 
he never revisited), that the clouds of his life began to 
gather. He returned to his home (Stamford Street, Ashton- 
under-Lyne) in July, 1877, and was sent in October of the 
same year, to Owens College, Manchester, to study medicine. 
Thus much is known that the subject was entirely distasteful 
to him, and that, though he distinguished himself in Greek 
in his preliminary examination, he did not devote himself 
to the reading necessary for the profession which it was 
intended he should follow: like the youthful Keats he 
was more engrossed by volumes of poetry than by treatises 
on anatomy. The " Halls of Medicine " saw him but 
seldom : it was in the public libraries of Manchester, with 
his favourite authors, the poets, that he spent most of 
his days. His passion for Cricket led him often, at this 
time, to Old Trafford, among the great matches which he 
witnessed there being the historic meeting of Lancashire 
and Gloucestershire on July 25, 26, and 27, 1878. 

Thompson spent nearly eight years at Owens College. 
Among those contemporary with him are many names of 
eminence: Professor W. Thorburn, Dr. E. S. Reynolds, 



I4 FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

Dr. Robert Maguire, Dr. Leopold Larmuth, and the late 
Dr. Thomas Harris, among the rest. But Thompson as 
a medical student was a misfit, for his hopes of healing lay 
elsewhere than in the consulting room, as his " Song of 
the Neglected Poet," already quoted, shows. 

The graceful and striking memorial recently (July, 1912) 
affixed in Manchester University to Thompson's memory 
as a student at Owens College bears some sad lines (taken 
from his " Ode to the Setting Sun ") which may serve to 
indicate the sense of disappointment haunting his life at 
the period of closing his medical studies : 

Whatso looks loyelily 
Is but the rainbow on life's weeping rain. 
Why have we longings of immortal pain, 
And all we long for mortal ? Woe is me, 
And all our chants but chaplet some decay 
As mine this vanishing nay vanished day. 

He does not seem ever to have concealed his mode of 
living at Manchester, or his repugnance to the profession 
selected for him, and in the end, the student whose heart 
was set on the construction of sentences rather than the 
structure of the human body, had to listen to the reproaches 
of an angry parent. There was a terrible scene between 
father and son. Still unwilling to pursue his medical 
studies, and fearful of another such meeting, the young 
man abruptly fled from home. In the ordinary course he 
would have spent the summer vacation of that year (1885) 
with his father ; but it was shortly before the vacation in 
the July of 1885 that the break which was to bring such 
sad consequences in its train, came. Francis seems to have 



FRANCIS THOMPSON. 15 

left with little in his pocket, and walked by many a devious 
way, until he arrived, in search of a living, in London. 
In the words of Mr. Meynell : " Like De Quincey he 
went to London, and knew Oxford Street for a stony- 
hearted stepmother." Arrived in the great city, without 
means and without any prospects before him, his life's 
tragedy began. Like Shakespeare in his early London 
days it was only by accepting " mean employment " that 
Thompson kept his soul in his body. 

He worked for a while as an assistant in a boot shop 
near Leicester Square ; later as a " collector " for a book- 
seller, for whom he had to haul heavy sacks through the 
streets. But days there were when no employment of any 
kind could be had, and the homeless night followed perforce 
the hungry day. Those who see in Thompson's poem, 
" The Hound of Heaven," a narration of his own 
experiences, will find many a passage which must have 
been suggested by this period : 

In the rash lustihead of my young powers, 

I shook the pillaring hours 

And pulled my life upon me ; grimed with smears, 
I stand amid the dust o' the mounded years 
My mangled youth lies dead beneath the heap. 
My days have crackled and gone up in smoke, 
Have puffed and burst as sun-starts on a stream. 



Ah! must 

Designer infinite 

Ah ! must Thou char the wood ere Thou canst limn 
with it? 



16 FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

Lines such as these tell their own story of the years " with 
heavy griefs so overplussed." 

Thompson was never physically strong. He had been 
afflicted with a nervous breakdown before leaving Man- 
chester, from the effects of which he never recovered. His 
life in London, before his " discovery " in 1888, cut off 
from home, and without a friend, must have been terrible. 
At times utterly destitute, at others glad to earn a trifling 
sum by any odd job (selling matches and the like) that 
chance threw in his way, his home perchance a railway 
arch or bench in the Park oppressed, too, by the thoughts 
of filial duty unfulfilled, it is no wonder that he should 
have sought the attractions of laudanum (whose wiles he 
learned whilst a student of medicine) to bring some 
measure of relief. It is related that on one occasion in his 
darkest days he was so strongly tempted to self-destruction 
that he only escaped the tempter by some mysterious, 
unseen intervention, and that the heaven of which he 
speaks : 

Short arm needs man to reach to heaven, 
So ready is heaven to stoop to him ; 

did indeed stoop down to save him, by dashing away the 
poison he had intended, in a fit of despair, to take. 

There is a touching incident (again recalling De 
Quincey) recorded in his own matchless way in his 
volume of " Sister Songs " (A Child's Kiss) which must 
have occurred in this "nightmare" time: 




BIRTHPLACE OF FRANCIS THOMPSON, 
7, WINCKLEY STREET, PRESTON. 



FRANCIS THOMPSON. 17 

Once, bright Sylviola ! in days not far, 
Once in that nightmare-time which still doth haunt 
My dreams, a grim, unbidden visitant 

Forlorn, and faint, and stark, 
I had endured through watches of the dark 

The abashless inquisition of each star, 
Yea, was the outcast mark 

Of all those heavenly passers' scrutiny ; 

Stood bound and helplessly 
For Time to shoot his barbed minutes at me ; 
Suffered the trampling hoof of every hour 

In night's slow-wheeled car : 
Until the tardy dawn dragged me at length 
From under those dread wheels ; and, bled of strength, 

1 waited the inevitable last. 

Then there came past 

A child ; like thee, a Spring flower ; but a flower 
Fallen from the budded coronal of Spring, 
And through the city streets blown withering. 
She passed, O brave, sad, lovingest, tender thing ! 
And of her own scant pittance did she give, 

That I might eat and live : 
Then fled, a swift and trackless fugitive. 

To what extent our poet's wedding with poverty 
fashioned an offspring in his poems will be for his biographer 
to note. The magazine to which Thompson sent his first 
accepted piece was Merry England. For a couple of 
years he had been sending verses, written on scraps of 
paper picked up in the streets, to impatient editors but 
without result. To the journal mentioned he sent, some 
time late in 1888, in hopelessly unpresentable manuscript, 
a poem which has been described as one of the brightest 
lights of his genius. The brilliancy of the verse-set gems 
was recognised by the editor, Mr. Wilfrid Meynell, and 
the poem and its acceptance became the turning point 
in the poet's career, at a time when all hope seemed gone. 
The tender-hearted editor, not content with publishing the 



i8 FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

verses, determined to find and assist their author. The 
address " Post Office, Charing Cross " given on the 
manuscript, afforded but little clue, however, and the search 
for the vagrant poet, then in the most pitiable state after 
his three years and more of London vagrancy and months 
of appalling suffering, was a long one. The chemist in 
Drury Lane from whom Thompson procured the drug 
which he used to ease his "human smart " was consulted 
and in the end the poet was traced to his lodging, to be 
rescued when everything seemed utterly lost. Won over 
by the kindness and sympathy of both Mr. and Mrs. 
Meynell, he agreed to place himself under their care. He 
was received temporarily into their home, and made the 
friend of their children. After being medically treated and 
carefully nursed, he lived for nearly two years in the 
monastery at Storrington, in Sussex the Storrington of 
his " Daisy-flower." 



It is to Mr. Meynell, his " more than friend," that the 
literary world will have to look, in the forthcoming 
biography of the poet by that brilliant writer, for many 
particulars of the poet's inner life : and it is not strange 
that the children of the Meynell family became the subject 
of some of Thompson's finest verses. To their mother, 
Mrs. Meynell (the gifted poetess eulogised by Ruskin), he 
dedicated the group of poems, " Love in Dian's Lap," 
besides many other charming pieces. To Mr. Meynell 
himself, under the initials " W. M., n he addressed the 
touching lines : 



FRANCIS THOMPSON. 19 

O tree of many branches ! One thou hast 
Thou barest not, but grafted'st on thee. Now, 
Should all men's thunders break on thee, and leave 
Thee reft of bough and blossom, that one branch 
Shall cling to thee, my Father, Brother, Friend, 
Shall cling to thee, until the end of end ! 

Of Storrington, Mr. Meynell in his biographical note 
prefaced to the volume of Selected Poems, states : " That 
beautiful Sussex village has now its fixed place on the map 
of English literature. For there it was that Francis 
Thompson discovered his possibilities as a poet." From 
thenceforth (November, 1888) until about 1897, when he 
took mainly to the writing of prose, Thompson soared 
higher and higher in his poetic flights, while his fame 
steadily grew. If his works are not yet as widely known 
as those of lesser writers, it is partly because Thompson 
is the poets' poet, and partly because, as an article in the 
Ushaw Magazine puts it, verses such as his, by their deep 
symbolism and old-time words, "are by their very character 
slow-footed travellers. They will journey far, but they 
must have time." 

The first volume of Thompson's Poems, which appeared 
in 1893, under the simple title, " Poems," attracted attention 
immediately. Of one of the longer pieces, " The Hound 
of Heaven," the critics did not hesitate to say that it 
seemed to be, on the whole, the most wonderful lyric in 
the language, the author a Crashaw cast in a diviner 
mould a worthy disciple of Dante a companion of 
Cowley the equal of Shelley. A great critic summed 
it up as "the return of the nineteenth century to Thomas a 



20 FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

Kempis." It delighted men of such diverse minds as Sir 
Edward Burne-Jones and Mr. Coventry Patmore ; the 
Bishop of London (who pronounced it " one of the most 
tremendous poems ever written"); and the Rev. R. J. 
Campbell, the Nonconformist divine. Grave and learned 
priests quoted it in their sermons ; scholars and literary 
men in every walk of life learnt it by heart ; the Times 
emphatically declared that men will still be learning it 
200 years hence ! Considered by most authorities to 
be Thompson's masterpiece, " The Hound of Heaven " 
abounds in gems of artistic trope and poetic imagery. It 
is doubtful if any more impressively beautiful gallery of 
pictures, contained in the space of less than two hundred 
lines, has been seen in modern days. Its exquisite paintings 
of the things of Nature wind, sky, and cloud which are 
incidentally presented as the theme proceeds, strike the 
imagination of all to whom the revelation of natural 
beauty appeals ; the genuine humanity and the powerful 
symbolism running through the whole of the poem, sink 
deep into the mind and soul. The subject matter God's 
pursuit and conquest of the resisting soul that would 
find its satisfaction elsewhere than in Him (God being 
symbolised as the Hound) is described, to borrow the 
words of Patmore, " in a torrent of as humanly-expressive 
verse as was ever inspired by a natural affection." 

Of the poems in the first volume it will suffice to quote 
J. L. Garvin in The Bookman : 

"A volume of poetry has not appeared in Queen 
Victoria's reign more authentic in greatness of utterance 



FRANCIS THOMPSON. 21 

than this It is perfectly safe to affirm 

that if Mr. Thompson wrote no other line, by this volume 
alone he is* as secure of remembrance as any poet of the 

century 3&r. Thompson's first volume is 

no mere promise it is itself among the great achievements 
of English poetry ; it has reached the peak of Parnassus 
at a bound." 

The volume entitled " Sister Songs," dedicated to 
Monica and Madeline Meynell (whose names are thus 
immortalised), appeared in 1895. Included in it is a 
poem, " Poet and Anchorite," which contains some lines 
memorable by their insight into the poet's inner self: 

Love and love's beauty only hold their revels 
In life's familiar, penetrable levels : 

What of its ocean-floor ? 

I dwell there evermore. 

From almost earliest youth 

I raised the lids o' the truth, 
And forced her bend on me her shrinking sight 

It was from stern truth, then, that the Prodigal of Song 
learnt his Art ! 

" Sister Songs " is described by Mr. Archer as " a 
book which Shelley would have adored." The Times 
says it contains passages which Spenser would not have 
disowned. To quote the latter more fully : " Thompson 
used his large vocabulary with a boldness and especially 
a recklessness, almost a frivolity in rhyme that were 
worthy of Browning. On the other hand, these rugged 
points, were, at a further view, absorbed into the total effect 
of beauty in a manner which Browning never achieved. 



22 FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

.... These c Sister Songs,' written in praise of two 
little sisters, contain a number of lovely and most musical 
lines, and some passages such as the seventh section of 
the first poem which Spenser would not have disowned." 

The last volume of verse (1897) entitled " New Poems " 
bears the same high mark of genius, winning the highest 
praise from the critics and reviewers. Sir A. T. Quiller- 
Couch ("Q") sums up his estimate of "The Mistress of 
Vision " : " It is verily a wonderful poem ; hung, like a 
fairy tale, in middle air a sleeping palace of beauty set in 
a glade in the heart of the woods of Westermain, surprised 
there and recognized with a gasp as satisfying, and 
summarizing a thousand youthful longings after beauty." 

Maud Diver in her novel " Candles in the Wind " 
has many fine things to say of Thompson's third volume. 
One passage only (given purposely without reference to 
the particular character to which it refers) must suffice to 
show something of the novelist's appreciation : 

During the process [of reading " New Poems "] murmurs 
of admiration broke from him. He was poet enough to 
recognise in this new singer a star of the first magnitude ; 
and there, while the pageant in the west flamed and died, 
he read that regal " Ode to the Setting Sun," which is, in 
itself, a pageant of colour and sound ; a deathless vindi- 
cation of Death's fruition. Then, eager for more, he 
passed on to the Anthem of Earth, surrendering his soul to 
the onrush of its majestical cadences; reading and 
re-reading, with an exalted thrill, certain lines, doubly 
pencilled, that echoed in his brain for days. 

+ + ' + + + + 

At the end of an hour he sat there still in a changed 
world ; a world no less stern and silent, yet mysteriously 
softened and spiritualized as if by the brush of a 
consummate artist. 



FRANCIS THOMPSON. 23 

" Matchless for their beauty," and similar expressions 
frequently occur in the general descriptions of the volume 
of " New Poems." 



In August, 1908, appeared "The Selected Poems of 
Francis Thompson," with the biographical note by Mr. 
Meynell before referred to, and a portrait of the poet in his 
nineteenth year. The selection, about fifty pieces in all, 
gives us of Thompson's best, and should serve to bring the 
larger works, from which they have been so admirably 
chosen, before a wide circle of readers. The poems on 
children rightly take the first place ; of the one entitled, 
" Ex Ore Infantium," it is but sober truth to say that 
nothing so tenderly devotional, and yet so daringly uncon- 
ventional, has ever before been put into language of such 
simple power. The volume contains several of the greater 
poems in full, including " The Hound of Heaven," the 
" Ode to the Setting Sun," the "Orient Ode," and "Any 
Saint " (a partly direct, partly mystical poem, of special 
significance) ; extracts from the " Mistress of Vision," the 
" Victorian Ode " (written for Queen Victoria's Diamond 
Jubilee), " The Anthem of Earth," " Assumpta Maria," 
and others of the longer works ; the whole of " July 
Fugitive," " Dream Tryst," " Contemplation," and other 
poems, besides a number of simpler pieces the Violets of 
Thompson's Garden of Poesy. The selection includes also 
the lines " In no Strange Land," found among the poet's 
papers after his death, and which are remarkable for their 
striking epitome of his teaching and final message. 



24 FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

It should be mentioned that the poet had promised an 
Ode for the centenary of Ushaw College, in 1908, but did 
not live to write it. 



Francis Thompson is not a poet with whom the 
multitudes of the reading public are as yet familiar, and 
even in his native town there are many to whom his name 
is still unknown. He ranks, nevertheless, as one of the 
few really great poetic geniuses and writers of his century, 
though his position cannot be definitely assigned until the 
world has had time to take more careful stock of his 
treasures, and had leisure to consider the full store of 
his literary output. For Thompson was not only a poet, 
but in his later years a writer of prose as sonorous and well 
nigh as remarkable as his poems. Genius, like nature, 
would appear to abhor a vacuum ; in our poet's case the 
years following 1897 may be described as his post-poetic 
period, a period which produced his great prose works, 
and the many valuable reviews on Theology, History, 
Biography, and Travel, which he contributed to the leading 
periodicals, and which have yet to be reprinted from their 
files. The prose works which have been published 
separately up to the present are his " Health and Holiness,*' 
or "A Study of the Relations between Brother Ass, the 
Body, and his Rider, the Soul " (described as an admirable 
scholastic essay, in heroic prose,) and his works on Shelley, 
on St. Ignatius of Loyola, and St. John Baptist de la 
Salle. The essay on Shelley was pronounced by Mr. George 



FRANCIS THOMPSON. 25 

Wyndham to be " the most important contribution to pure 
letters written in English during the last twenty years." 
For " The Life of St. Ignatius of Loyola " which must 
ever remain a memorial to his powers as a prose-writer, 
original research was, of course, impossible, but, as stated 
in the editor's note, the author brought to his work the 
sympathy of genius with genius, and had almost a 
contemporary's affinity with the age in which the Saint 
lived. The Rev. Dr. Barry, himself a distinguished 
writer, say? of it : " It is a portrait from life, not a copy. 
. . . While we read these lines the founder of the great 
Company stands before us in his habit as he lived." And 
again : " I hold that our dead poet has written a Life 
exact in statement, beautiful in point of style. . . . It is 
a notable addition, if we ought not rather to call it the 
beginning of a true English literature, in its own 
department." In an interesting passage in the Life, the 
Saint is compared with John Wesley, whose lives, though 
so unlike outwardly, had much of similarity below the 
surface. 

" The Life of St. John Baptist de la Salle," a shorter 
work, presents the life of the Founder of the Christian 
Brothers with singular felicity, and contains in the closing 
chapter a brilliant epigrammatic defence of the Church's 
championship of free education, in which Thompson, as a 
prose writer, is seen at his best. 

+ + + + + + + + 

A seventeenth century poet, born in the nineteenth, 
bringing with him the solace of old time melody melody 



26 FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

like unto the richest strains of Crashaw and Cowley 
Francis Thompson depends mainly on his poetical works 
for his place among the literary giants of his age. His 
poems are among the glories of our literature. They have 
fashioned for themselves thrones in the hearts of many 
to whom the charms of verse had never appealed before : 
their deep faith in the intimate presence of God has been 
an inspiration and spiritual tonic to innumerable souls. 

Writing of her husband, in the year 1893, Lady Burne- 
Jones states that the winter of that year was cheered by 
the appearance of a small volume of poems by Francis 
Thompson, whose name was till then unknown to them. 
The book moved Sir Edward to admiration and hope, and 
she tells that, speaking of "The Hound of Heaven," he 
said: "Since Gabriel's 'Blessed Damozel' no mystical 
words have so touched me as * The Hound of Heaven.* 
Shall I ever forget how I undressed and dressed again, 
and had to undress again a thing I most hate because 
I could think of nothing else ? " 

And thousands more have drawn encouragement and 
hope, not only from " The Hound of Heaven," but from 
many another of Francis Thompson's poems. Never, 
surely, was woman worshipped with such utter chastity. 
"Where," asks Mr. Traill in The Nineteenth Century, 
" unless perhaps here and there in a sonnet of Rossetti's, 
has this x sort of sublimated enthusiasm for the bodily and 
spiritual beauty of womanhood found such expression 
between the age of the Stuarts and our own ? " 



FRANCIS THOMPSON. 27 

Thompson is above all the poet of celestial vision. His 
poetry answers to the full Shelley's description of the 
function of poetry in general ; it " redeems from decay the 
visitations of the divinity in man." In no other great poet 
of the nineteenth century are these visitations more frequent 
or more splendid. The intensity of his mysticism, the 
glow and fervour of his verse, his rapturous communings, 
seem to have "fired" the very critics. The extracts 
appended, taken at random from a number of their 
appreciations, will serve to exhibit the unprecedented 
enthusiasm which the poet's lines exercised : 

One has seldom seen poet more wildly abandoned to his 
rapture, more absorbed in the trance of his ecstacy. When the 
irresistible moment comes, he throws himself upon his mood as 
a glad swimmer gives himself to the waves, careless whither 
the strong tide carries him, knowing only the wild joy of the 
laughing waters and the rainbow spray. He shouts, as it were, 
for mere gladness, in the welter of wonderful words, and he 
dives swift and fearless to fetch his deep-sea fancies. R. LE 
GALLIENNE, in The Daily Chronicle. 

Here are dominion dominion over language, and a sincerity 
as of Robert Burns. ... In our opinion, Mr. Thompson's 
poetry at its highest attains a sublimity unsurpassed by any 
Victorian poet. The Speaker. 

To read Mr. Francis Thompson's poems is like setting sail 
with Drake or Hawkins in search of new worlds and golden 
spoils. He has the magnificent Elizabethan manner, the 
splendour of conception, the largeness of imagery. KATHARINE 
TYNAN-HINKSON, in The Bookman. 

He swung a rare incense in a censer of gold, under the vault 
of a chapel where he had hung votive offerings. When he 
chanted in his chapel of dreams, the airs were often airs which 
he had learnt from Crashaw and from Patmore. They came to 
life again when he used them, and he made for himself a music 
which was part strangely familiar and part his own, almost 
bewilderingly. Such reed-notes and such orchestration of sound 



2 8 FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

were heard nowhere else; and people listened to the music, 
entranced as by a new magic. The genius of Francis Thompson 
was Oriental, exuberant in colour, woven into elaborate patterns, 
and went draped in old silk robes, that had survived many 
dynasties. The spectacle of him was an enchantment ; he 
passed like a wild vagabond of the mind, dazzling our sight. 
ARTHUR SYMONS, in The Saturday Review. 

In Francis Thompson's poetry, as in the poetry of the 
universe, you can work infinitely out and out, but yet infinitely 
in and in. These two infinities are the mark of greatness ; and 
he was a great poet. C. K. CHESTERTON, in The Illustrated 
London News. 

We find that in these poems profound thought, far-fetched 
splendour of imagery, and nimble-witted discernment of those 
analogies which are the roots of the poet's language, abound 
. . . . qualities which ought to place him in the permanent 
ranks of fame, with Cowley and with Crashaw. COVENTRY 
PATMORE, in The Fortnightly Review. 

The regal airs, the prophetic ardours, the apocalyptic vision, 
the supreme utterance he has them all. The Bookman. 



The later years of Thompson's life seem to have been 
uneventful save for his writings, and for an incident in 
1888, and another in 1897, either of which might have 
ended disastrously. Whilst at Storrington it was his 
custom to spend long hours in walks out of doors. On one 
of these walks, shortly after his arrival at the Monastery in 
November, 1888, he got lost in a fog on the Downs, and 
was in a state of exhaustion when found. On the second 
occasion (sometime in 1897j, whilst in apartments in London, 
he had been smoking in bed, and having fallen asleep, 
awoke to find himself surrounded with flames. He jumped 
up, fortunately in time to enable him to escape without 
injury, save such as an irate landlady poured, justly 
enough, upon his head. 



FRANCIS THOMPSON. 29 

He lived for some months during 1893 in the Franciscan 
Monastery at Pantasaph, in North Wales, and stayed 
later, for a short time, in the Monastery at Crawley. In a 
letter written to an old schoolfellow from Pantasaph, in 
the summer of 1893, he mentions that he had been so 
badly bitten in the arm as not to be able to use his pen 
properly. 

About 1898 he became attached to the staff of the 
Academy, and to that journal, and to the Athenaum, 
contributed many noteworthy articles and reviews. 
One of his colleagues on the Academy states that it 
was quite a usual thing when reading over the proof 
of an article by Thompson " to exclaim aloud on his 
splendid handling of a subject demanding the best literary 
knowledge and insight." Another has shown how 
Thompson exercised the privilege, peculiar to the poet, of 
disregarding the ordinary rules of method and order 
pertaining to a business office. He was (we are told) the 
most unbusinesslike creature, and often drove the editor to 
despair. His copy (always written on pages torn from 
penny exercise books) came pretty regularly, but it was 
almost impossible to get him to return proofs. Neither 
imploring letters nor peremptory telegrams availed. Then 
he would walk in, calmly produce from his basket or 
wonderful pockets a mass of galleys, and amongst them as 
likely as not, two or three telegrams unopened. But (to 
quote Mr. Meynell once more) "editors forebore to be 
angry at his delays, for after a while of waiting, they got 
from him, at last, what none else could give at all." 



3 o FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

A pen picture of Thompson at the time that he was on 
the Academy staff may be of interest : 

A stranger figure than Thompson's was not to be seen in 
London. Gentle in looks, half-wild in externals, his face 
worn by pain and the fierce reactions of laudanum, his 
hair and straggling beard neglected, he had yet a 
distinction and an aloofness of bearing that marked him 
in the crowd ; and when he opened his lips, he spoke as a 
gentleman and a scholar. A cleaner mind, a more 
naively courteous manner, were not to be found. It was 
impossible and unnecessary to think always of the tragic 
side of his life. He still had to live and work in his 
fashion, and his entries and exits became our most 
cheerful institutions. 



No money (and in his later years Thompson suffered more 
from the possession of money than from the lack of it) 
could keep him in a decent suit of clothes for long. Yet 
he was never "seedy." From a newness too dazzling to 
last, and seldom achieved at that, he passed at once into 
a picturesque nondescript garb that was all his own and 
made him resemble some weird pedlar or packman in an 
etching by Ostade. This impression of him was helped 
by the strange object his fish basket, we called it 
which he wore slung round his shoulders by a strap. 



Thompson cared nothing for the world's comment, and 
though he would talk with radiant interest on many 
things, it was always with a certain sunny separateness, 
as though he issued out of unseen chambers of thought, 
requiring nothing, but able and willing to interest himself 
in the thing to which his attention was drawn. He had 
ceased to make demands on life. He ear-marked nothing 
for his own. As a reviewer, enjoying the run of the office, 
he never pounced on a book ; he waited, and he accepted. 
Interested still in life, he was no longer intrigued by it. 
He was free from both apathy and desire. Unembittered 
by the destitution and despair he had known, unestranged 
from men by his passionate cpmmunings with the 
mysteries of faith and beatific vision, Thompson kept 
his sweetness and sanity, his dewy laughter, and his 
fluttering gratitude. In such a man outward ruin could 



FRANCIS THOMPSON. 31 

never be pitiable or ridiculous, and, indeed, he never 
bowed his noble head but in adoration. I think the 
secret of his strength was this : that he had cast up his 
accounts with God and man, and thereafter stood in the 
mud of earth with a heart wrapt in such fire as touched 
Isaiah's lips. He was humbly, daringly, irrevocably 
satisfied of his soul. 



I cannot follow, far less expound, the faith which 
Thompson held so humbly, and embellished so royally. 
But I am very certain that if these things are so, and if 
God loves that man who for a wage of tears refines 'fine 
gold for His Ark, and with bleeding hands digs the rock 
for its adorning, then indeed the morass is become firm 
ground, and my old friend sees, through some thinner 
veil, " the immutable crocean dawn effusing from the 
Father's Throne." * 

Another picture of Thompson, this time as he appears to 
an Eastern mind, is to be found in S. K. Ghosh's Indian 
romance " The Prince of Destiny." In this dramatic semi- 
political story " the presentment of India by an Indian," 
Francis Thompson is introduced as one of the characters, 
with many an interesting glimpse of his personality. " He 
"was of medium height, but very slight of frame, which 
"made him look taller than he really was. His cheeks 
" were so sunken as to give undue prominence to a little 
" g rev beard that was pointed at the end, but otherwise 
" untrimmed." Barath (the Prince-hero of the tale) meets 
Thompson at Waterloo Station, both, as it happens, though 
unknown to each other, bound for Boscombe. Barath 
notices his eyes, " in fact, struck by them from the first, he 
" had noticed nothing else. Whether they were light grey 
" or blue he could not tell ; it was their lustre, not their 

* WILFRED WHITTKN ("John o' London,") in T. P.'s Weekly, November 29, 1907, 



32 FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

"colour, that arrested his attention. As for his garb, 
" Barath cared little. . . . But the lustre of those eyes, 
"intensified by the contrast of the sunken cheeks and 
" emaciated face he had never seen in England before." 
Barath is going to visit a friend, Colonel Wingate. 
Arrived at the house, he noticed that the Colonel was 
wrapt in thought, ever and anon casting an anxious glance 
down the gravel path which ran past the house in a line 
with the main road beyond. 

" Yes, we are expecting a friend," Wingate explains. 
" Rather, one, the privilege of whose friendship we hope to 
" deserve some day. ... I am here to-day and gone 
" to-morrow, but this man's work will last as long as the 
" English language lasts which itself will survive the 
" wreck of the British Empire." 

Needless to say the expected guest is Francis Thompson, 
described later in the book as " this man whose intellect 
was perhaps the greatest among Englishmen of his day." 
A delightful glimpse is given of Thompson as a smoker. 
He takes out his pipe, strikes a match, gives a puff, holds 
the match over the bowl till his fingers are nearly burnt, 
then throws away the match, and strikes another and so 
on. Wingate afterwards picks up the matches and counts 
them. "Just fourteen!" he says gleefully. But then he 
wraps them up in a piece of tissue paper and puts them 
carefully away in his vest pocket ! 




FRANCIS THOMPSON AT THE AGE OF FIFTEEN. 



FRANCIS THOMPSON. 33 

For some years before his death, Thompson was a 
familiar object in London streets. He would wander 
about alone, apparently in an aimless fashion, but in 
reality absorbed in his own lavendered thoughts that 
state of alienation from passing things so necessary for 
artistic contemplation. Often enough he might have been 
seen clad winter and summer alike in a brown cloak, 
or ulster, and with a basket, like a fish basket, slung around 
his shoulders. This he used to carry the books he had to 
review. Though of a painfully shy and retiring disposition, 
he was a cheerful companion, with the saving grace of 
humour. One who knew him well as boy and man states 
that " in him there sat enthroned not only the stern and 
haughty muse of Tragedy, but her gentler sister, Comedy." 
He was, too, as numerous passages in his works denote, a 
keen student of science. One failing if failing it be he 
certainly had : he detested letter writing. The picture 
would hardly be complete without adding that, according 
to some, (Mr. Coventry Patmore among them,) Thompson 
was one of the best talkers in the city. He spoke from his 
own convictions with extreme fluency, yet weighing his words 
in matters of a controversial nature, and careful always 
to avoid offence. Indeed, he would not knowingly have 
hurt a talkative fly ! The hierarchic order of the universe, 
the culture and ethics of the Greeks, the philosophy of the 
schoolmen, the tactics of military commanders in bygone 
centuries, the latest advance in science alike gave oppor- 
tunity for the silver and gold surprises of his speech to the 
few (the very few) with whom he was familiar. Of 



34 FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

his favourite lines in Shakespeare and Milton, or the merits 
and virtues and the hundred niceties of style of his 
cricket heroes of the past, he would enlarge for hours. 

Emaciated and worn by disease, he could still exhibit an 
extraordinary glow and vivacity of manner. He dealt 
largely in the names and rites of old : the pomp of old 
time facts formed the pomp of his present dreams. 

The same mental abstraction which caused him to be 
nearly run over at Manchester in his student days, which 
lost him on the South Downs, which resulted in the 
burning of the bed on which he had fallen asleep while 
smoking in his apartments and which is evidently 
hinted at in the incident of his alighting at the wrong 
station on the visit to Boscombe in the " Prince of 
Destiny," followed him in all his moves. 

He seldom spoke of his nightmare days ; when he did, 
it was not complainingly. He could not have written 
with Tennyson 

I stretch lame hands of faith, and grope, 
And gather dust and chaff; and call 
To what I feel is Lord of all, 
And faintly trust the larger hope. 

Aloof from men he dwelt with God, recognising to 
the full- 
All which I took from thee I did but take 
Not for thy harms 
But just that thou might'st seek it in My arms. 






FRANCIS THOMPSON. 35 

To his eyes the material universe was literally full of the 
" many coloured wisdom of God," and Christ he saw 
Lo here ! lo there ! ah me, lo everywhere ! 

Who can doubt the evident sincerity of the lines in 
" Any Saint ? " : 

But He a little hath 
Declined His stately path 

And my 
Feet set more high. 

+ + + + 

And bolder now and bolder 
I lean upon that shoulder, 

So near 
He is, and dear. 

Though Thompson's lot in life was so opposite to that of 
the happy soul in Crashaw's " Temperance " 

The happy soul, that all the way 
To Heaven, hath a summer's day 

he was not soured by his dreadful experiences, but with 
heart warmed by the Divine presence, accepted them in a 
patient, matter-of-fact way, conscious that he had kept "the 
white bird in his breast " protected. To other writers he 
was invariably generous. One who had been associated 
with him in literary work testifies: "A more careful or 
more generous reviewer never lived ; to contemporary 
poets, indeed, he was over tender, and / never heard him speak 
an ungenerous word of any living soul." 

Devoted to his faith, enthusiastic when writing of her 

About whose mooned brows 
Seven stars make seven glows 
Seven stars for seven woes 



36 FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

in word and work alike severely chaste he has already 
been called " Our Lady's Poet." A more loyal courtier of 
the Queen of Heaven it would certainly be difficult to find ! 

A contributor to the Chunk Times (March, 1911) writes 
that in later life Thompson always exculpated his father 
from any share in the break with the family which marked 
the poet's early years in London ; and clung to the 
recollection that they met again, when the father had 
been " entirely kind." 

The poet's fondness for children was of the most natural 
kind. He did not condescend to them ; he was one of 
themselves. Elaborate dissection of the child-mind did 
not commend itself to Thompson. " He was content (as a 
writer in the Christian World Pulpit puts it) to play with 
children without analysing them, and to pass with them 
through their own secret doorways into the wonder-world 
to which they belong." In answer to the question which 
he himself asks " Know you what it is to be a child ? " he 
gives the answer : " It is to have a spirit still streaming 
" from the waters of baptism. It is to believe in love, to 
" believe in loveliness, to believe in belief. It is to be so 
" little that the elves can reach to whisper in your ears ; it 
"is to turn pumpkins into coaches, and mice into horses, 
" lowness into loftiness, and nothing into everything." 

The poet's unaffected child-love is revealed in many a 
passage in his works, but nowhere more notably perhaps 
than in the beautiful passage in " The Hound of Heaven " 
where the soul approaches nearest to the object of its 



FRANCIS THOMPSON. 37 

quest. For it is not in the wind-walled Palace of Nature, 
nor yet in the wilful face of skies, but it is within the little 
children's eyes that he makes the easing of the human 
smart come nearest to realisation ! And in another poem 
" To my Godchild," in lines of tender felicity, he makes it 
clear it is in the " Nurseries of Heaven " that he would 
be placed : 

Then, as you search with unaccustomed glance 
The ranks of Paradise for my countenance, 
Turn not your tread along the Uranian sod 
Among the bearded counsellors of God ; 
For, if in Eden as on earth are we, 
I sure shall keep a younger company : 
Pass where beneath their ranged gonfalons . 
The starry cohorts shake their shielded suns, 
The dreadful mass of their enridged spears ; 
Pass where majestical the eternal peers, 
The stately choice of the great saintdom, meet 
A silvern segregation, globed complete 
In sandalled shadow of the Triune feet ; 



Pass the crystalline sea, the lampads seven : 
Look for me in the nurseries of Heaven. 



Thompson died of consumption. At the beginning of 
November, 1907, he entered, on the advice of his friends, 
the Hospital of St. Elizabeth and St. John, in St. John's 
Wood, London. There he died on the 13th of the same 
month, in his forty-eighth year. He had prepared himself 
devoutly for the end ; received the Sacraments ; and was 
ready when the summons, long expected, came. 

At the time of entering the hospital he was so terribly 
emaciated that he weighed but five stone. The devoted 



38 FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

Sister (Mother Michael) who tended him states that he was 
very quiet and wonderfully unselfish in the ward, where he 
was visited from time to time by members of the Meynell 
family. It is a curious circumstance, worthy of passing 
mention, that among the books which he kept within reach 
'as he lay dying was Mr. Jacobs' " Many Cargoes." He 
was interred on the 16th November, in St. Mary's Ceme- 
tery, Kensal Green. His grave now bears a stone on 
which, in beautiful lettering (the work of the sculptor 
Eric Gill) are the words : 

FRANCIS THOMPSON, 
18591907. 

" LOOK FOR ME IN THE NURSERIES OF HEAVEN." 

Surely no more suitable line could have been chosen 
from his works for one who, with all his intellect, was 
still a child at heart! 

The sorrows of his earlier days had endeared him to his 
friends, and if the " uses of his adversity " had any sweets 
at all, among them must surely be reckoned the added 
endearment of those he cherished. In his coffin were roses 
from the garden of Mr. George Meredith, inscribed with 
Mr. Meredith's testimony " A true poet, one of a small 
band " ; and violets from kindred turf were sent by Mrs. 
Meynell, whose praises he had with such soul-worship 
sung. Mr. Meynell's biographical note prefaced to the 
volume of " Selected Poems " ends : " Devoted friends 
lament him, no less for himself than for his singing. He 



FRANCIS THOMPSON. 39 

had made all men his debtors, leaving to those who loved 
him the memory of a unique personality, and to English 
poetry an imperishable name." 

His rich and varied colourings with their old-time 
touches of re-captured glory, his rapt mysticism and high 
thinking, the wide range of his mental vision,' and the 
answering splendours of his lofty imaginings, have placed 
him high in the permanent ranks of fame. Indeed, it 
is true to say of Thompson as of Shelley, Keats, and 
Tennyson that so long as poems are read, so long will 
some of them, at least, be his the great, though hitherto 
but little known Victorian, who shall yet be counted 
memorable by all jealous of the high traditions of English 
Song. 




Thompson and the Verdict of Time. 



SOME CHARACTERISTICS OF 
THOMPSON'S VERSE. 



Thompson and the Verdict of Time, 

In literature, as in science and art, the great works 
of the high thinkers have not always obtained immediate 
appreciation. Indeed, many of the writers whom the 
verdict of time has placed among the immortals, have, 
according to their biographers, been slow of recognition. 
Coleridge, and to a greater extent, Wordsworth, may be 
cited offhand as examples of poets whose works remained 
enshrined for many years in the breasts of comparatively 
few readers. 

It need occasion no surprise, therefore, that Francis 
Thompson's poetry, although hailed with delight by the 
critics, is not yet as widely known among the general 
public as its merits deserve ; nor need it be thought 
that his verse will pass into oblivion because, in the 
short space since the poet's death, it has not become 
the subject of more extensive notice. Great poetry 
advances but slowly in general estimation. Its appeal 
is always in the first instance to the more discerning 
thinkers, and then to the larger body who are content 
to, or must of necessity, follow their lead. Of poetry 
meant like Thompson's to elevate the mind rather than 
tickle the vanity or follow the fashions of the age, it 



44 FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

is especially true that its due recognition must be the 
result -of that maturer judgment which time alone can 
give. Doubtless, also, the deep symbolism pervading 
many of Thompson's poems must be taken into account 
in any consideration of the ultimate estimate of his work ; 
but it should be remembered that symbolism, when com- 
bined with clarity of vision and depth of poetical insight, 
is but the stronghold for a precious message which might, 
without such protection, be lost. 

It has been well said that in all real poetry poetry 
that is to endure there must be certain essentials : melody 
of rhythm ; fertility of ideas ; beauty of sentiment ; skilful 
dignification and blending of words ; the faculty of seeing 
what is dark to others. To say that Thompson had a 
wonderful and fascinating melody of rhythm ; a profusion 
of the loveliest ideas ; a deep, reverent, and ever-present 
sentiment and sense of the beauty on every side, and a 
profound mastery over many kinds of versification which 
he wedded to an extraordinary range of subjects, is not 
to exceed, but to fall below, the pronouncements of many 
of the greatest authorities. But over and above the 
richness of essentials, he had a vision so celestial, combined 
with an imagery so rich and beautiful, that he stands 
unsurpassed in these qualities by any poet of his age. 
Transcendent thought, glowing pictures, striking flashes of 
imagination, spell-binding touches of loveliness, passages 
of intertwined intellectualism, abound in Thompson's 
verse. His is no more the poetry for an idle man 
as a substitute for a cigar, than is Browning's. He 



FRANCIS THOMPSON. 45 

takes an idea and develops it, adding layer after layer 
of thought with the daring of the true poet, and the 
enthusiasm of the mystic saturated with consciousness 
of the supernatural. Ranging heaven and earth in his 
quest for comparisons to illustrate the fancies of his mind, 
he "oozes poetry at every pore." In the wealth of his 
wonderful words, he makes from the old hard-worked 
English language the materials for almost a new dictionary. 
The marvel is that, being so heavily weighted with word 
and thought, he should proceed smoothly ; yet proceed 
smoothly he does a very wizard of musical speech. The 
great things and the small alike serve his purpose. He 
is as " gold-dusty with tumbling amidst the stars " as 
Shelley (to whom he applies the description), yet a piece 
of burnt wood supplies the clue which he fashions into 
the subtle thought 

Designer Infinite! 
Ah ! must Thou char the wood ere 
Thou canst limn with it? 

and a simple flower the lines 

God took a fit of Paradise-wind, 

A slip of coerule weather, 
A thought as simple as Himself, 

And ravelled them together. 

Although such passages as 

Thou hast devoured mammoth and mastodon, 
And many a floating bank of fangs, 
The scaly scourges of thy primal brine, 
And the tower-crested plesiosaure. 
Thou fillest thy mouth with nations, gorgest slow 
On purple aeons of kings; man's hulking towers 
Are carcase for thee, and to modern sun 
Disglutt'st their splintered bones 



46 FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

(taken from his poem addressed to Earth) are to be 
found, it was nevertheless the same hand which wrote 
the exquisitely quaint and simple lines : 

Little Jesus, wast Thou shy 
Once, and just so small as I ? 
And what did it feel like to be 
Out of Heaven, and just like me ? 
I should think that I would cry 
For my house all made of sky ; 
I would look about the air, 
And wonder where my angels were; 
And at waking 'twould distress me 
Not an angel there to dress me ! 

Like Blake, it was his 

To see a world in a grain of sand, 
A heaven in a wild flower 

Unlike Blake, his mysticism is never shrouded in mist, 
nor are his visions of awful holiness ever curtained in 
" concealing vapours." 

If no songster has beaten so painfully against the bars 
of the flesh, surely none has sung, as Thompson, at times, 
with such an utter ecstasy of delight. If many of his 
poems are charged with a self-conscious sadness and 
pessimism and bitter self analysis, there is still enough 
of joyous offering left to catch his readers " fast for ever 
in a tangle of sweet rhymes." To read his verse is to 
walk for ever after in a more beautiful, though, perchance, 
a more mystical world of life and thought, and of corre- 
lated greatness, with a tread which 

Stirring the blossoms in the meadow grass 
Flickers the unwithering stars. 



FRANCIS THOMPSON. 47 

The world and human life were, to Thompson, 
" crammed with Heaven and aflame with God." Thus, 
while Wordsworth, Tennyson, and Browning speak of 
their spiritual experiences in a more or less uncertain 
way, the spiritual experiences of Thompson are as real 
as the physical the practice of ascetism deliberately 
accepted and propounded. In " The Mistress of Vision " 
he puts forth his " stark gospel of renunciation," and 
asks : 

Where is the land of Luthany, 
Where is the tract of Elenore? 
I am bound therefor. 

The answer is the heroic one of abnegation and self- 
denial contained in the lines which follow the passage 
quoted, abnegation and self-denial which he himself 
ardently practised in his maturer years practised as well 
as preached. Doubtless this poem "The Mistress of 
Vision " will rank eventually next to " The Hound of 
Heaven" for spiritual potentiality combined with genius 
of inspiration. 

An interesting collection of great poetic lines has 
recently been made by a famous American (Mr. Hudson 
Maxim), and is given at the end of his monumental 
work on " The Science of Poetry and the Philosophy 
of Language." The author claims for his list that it 
probably embraces by far the larger part of the greatest 
poetic lines in the English language. Of the hundred 
and ninety-two examples selected, all chosen for their 



48 FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

rich poetic thought, two are from Longfellow, two from 
Tennyson, three from Wordsworth, and four each from 
Shelley and Thompson. 

Thompson's poetry is, as one writer puts it " all 
compact of thought" thought elaborated with exquisite 
subtlety, and an endless profusion and variety of metaphor 
and simile, drawn from a thousand sources, but most 
happily, from his profound knowledge of the Old and 
New Testaments, and the Church's philosophy, dogma, 
and liturgy. Indeed, to go back to the poet of "white 
fire," to whom Thompson has been most frequently, 
and most aptly perhaps, compared : is not Crashaw him- 
self often outstripped, even in his own special glory of 
" mixing heaven and earth," by our own poet ? 

Mr. J. L. Garvin on reading Thompson's first volume 
wrote, that in the rich and virile harmonies of his line 
in strange and lovely vision in fundamental meaning 
Thompson is possibly the first of Victorian poets, and 
at least of none the inferior, a view which time 
has strengthened and the poet's later works confirmed. 
Whether the recent assertions of Mr. C. K. Chesterton 
and others, that all serious critics now class Thompson 
with Shelley and Keats, be true or not, there can be no 
question but that critics, whether serious or otherwise, 
are agreed in placing him among the imperishable names 
of English Song. Certainly no list of the six greatest 
poets of the nineteenth century would be conclusive 
without the name of Francis Thompson ! 




FRANCIS THOMPSON IN 1893, 



FRANCIS THOMPSON. 49 

v/ From the simple and lovely lines " To a Snowflake," 
"Daisy," "The Poppy," "The Making of Viola" (in 
which he describes the making of a child in Heaven), 
and the rest of his childhood verses, to the regal " Ode 
to the Setting Sun " and the airy elegance of " Dream 
Tryst," and on again to "The Anthem of Earth" and 
" The Orient Ode," Thompson passes from the simplest 
to the grandest elements of being, and shows himself a 

Great pre-appointed Prodigal of Song 

This mad world soothing as he sweeps along. 

Even Tennyson with his great quality of making 
language musical, is surpassed by the younger poet. 
If anyone should doubt this, let him study the poems 
mentioned, and end with "To my Godchild" and "The 
Cloud's Swan Song." Verses such as these, and the 
inspired " Mistress of Vision " (of which Sir A. T. 
Quiller-Couch declared that so such poem had been 
written since Coleridge attempted, and left off writing, 
" Kubla Khan "), will continue to soar among the peaks 
of literature and adorn 

The gold gateway of the stars, 

as "The Hound of Heaven" will continue to be cherished 
though its full grandeur may be grasped only by the 
deeper-souled few to the end of time. 

A glance through any of the volumes of Thompson's 
poems will at once show that many of his lines need 
careful study, besides the assistance of a dictionary and 
books of reference on many subjects ancient and modern. 



50 FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

But this may be said with certainty : if the precise hues 
of the poet's meaning cannot always be seen at once, the 
central idea is clear enough, and glory of colour is present, 
though its splendours may be too great for immediate 
comprehension. Writing on this aspect of the poet's 
works, a writer in the Irish Rosary for September, 1912, 
says : " There is no mist or haze attached to his imagery. 
They will catch away the mind's breath at the first flash, 
but when they have been read carefully, they will soon 
become clear-seen and clear-cut, even brilliant in their 
obscurity, obvious perhaps by their very unexpectedness. 
His most intricate harmonies are loaded with a rush of 
music that may perplex, but which works itself out in the 
end, perhaps upon the quaver of the last syllable: the 
feeling remains with the reader all the time that nobody 
else could quite have written it, and that Thompson him- 
self could not have written anything else, that his words 
and expressions have waited a thousand years for his 
coming to claim and set them to the highest use. He did 
not open his images like sky-lights to make clear a chance 
meaning here and there in his work, but he opened, as it 
were, a whole apse of windows to illuminate one central 
idea throned altarwise. Each of his great poems is builded 
delicately, like a great window of stained glass, and every 
fragment of it is filled with the rich colour inherent to his 
words. At the first rush of thought the eyes are dazzled 
as by a sudden blaze from above, yet at a little distance 
every word falls harmonized and ordered into a net- work 
of metre, which grapples colour to colour and syllable to 



FRANCIS THOMPSON. 51 

syllable as simply and convincingly as the beaded lead that 
controls the splendoured glories of some rose-window.'* 



That Thompson knew something at least of the great- 
ness of his work may be gathered from the lines : 

The sleep-flower sways in the wheat its head, 
Heavy with dreams, as that with bread ; 
The goodly grain and the sun-flushed sleeper 
The reaper reaps, and Time the reaper. 

I hang 'mid men my needless head, 

And my fruit is dreams, as theirs is bread ; 

The goodly men and the sun-hazed sleeper 

Time shall reap, but after the reaper 

The world shall glean of me me the sleeper! 

(POEMS.) 

With 

The loud 

Shouts of the crowd 

he was not concerned. Rather would it have pleased 
him to know that his voice would become audible when 
the " high noises " of the crowd had passed. In his 
review of the poetry of Mrs. Meynell, there occurs a 
passage which illustrates this, and might, in very truth, 
be applied to much of his own muse : 

" The footfalls of her muse waken not sounds, but 
silences. We lift a feather from the marsh and say : 

* This way went a heron.' . ... It is poetry, 
the spiritual voice of which will become audible when the 

* high noises ' of to-day have followed the feet that made 



52 FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

What other, of all the poetry of the nineteenth century, 
has awakened such silences of thought and such soulful 
meditation as " The Hound of Heaven " and " The 
Mistress of Vision " ? 

To come at length to another characteristic of 
Thompson's verse reference must certainly be made to 
his frequent neologisms. To those who complain of the 
poet's own coinage, it need only be said that the splendid 
use he makes of words non-existent in pre-Thompsonian 
English is, after all, the poet's chief justification. To 
quote again from the Irish Rosary: " Delight, not indig- 
nation, is the proper attitude of people who are made 
suddenly aware that fine gold has just been brought to 
light in their rock-garden." 

That the poet who, in his own words 
Drew the bolt of Nature's secrecies, 

should abound in " Nature touches " is what might be 
expected. " Mist of tears," " vistaed hopes," " Titanic 
glooms," "chasmed fears," " skyey blossoms," " sighful 
branches" li vapourous shroudage," "dawning answers," 
"cowled night," "strings of sand" "windy trammel," 
" parable in the pathless cloud " and a hundred other 
examples might be given of the descriptions drawn from 
natural phenomena, in Thompson's poetry. 

Another feature still of Thompson's verse is its 
astonishing variety : 

The freshness of May, and the sweetness of June, 
And the fire of July in its passionate noon 



FRANCIS THOMPSON. 53 

each finds a place in the gorgeous " pomp and prodigality " 
of his muse. Lines on Children, on Cricket, on the 
English Martyrs verses of " utter chastity " on the 
benefactress whom he calls his " dear administress " 
(the inspirer of the group of poems " Love in Dian's 
lap ") chants of the Autumn and Nature odes to the 
rising and sinking Sun poetic representation of scientific 
truth poems of sadness and poems of ecstacy detached 
fragments of thought and philosophy flights into the 
realms of mysticism, mythology, theology images drawn 
from the Scriptures and the liturgy of the Church, all are 
there, with many a word of " learned length and thunder- 
ing sound " adorning, without loading, the sense he 
wishes to convey. Lovers of Shakespeare will come 
across many a passage of Shakesperean touch ; admirers 
of Shelley, many a passage of Shelleyan flavour. 

In such a treasury it is difficult to pick and choose for 
samples of the poet's art, but the following passages, the 
first and second descriptive of flowers ; the third, one 
of the extracts from " The Hound of Heaven " given by 
Mr. Hudson Maxim in his collection of great poetic lines ; 
and the last, a passage illustrative of the more intricate 
structure of Thompson's verse, may be taken as typical, 
to some degree, of the poet's style : 

(I.) Summer set lip to earth's bosom bare, 

And left the flushed print in a poppy there : 

Like a yawn of fire from the grass it came, 

And the fanning wind puffed it to flapping flame. 

(Selected Poems, " THE POPPY.") 



54 FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

(II.) Who made the splendid rose 

Saturate with purple glows : 
Cupped to the marge with beauty ; a perfume-press 

Whence the wind vintages 
Gushes of warmed fragrance richer far 

Than all the flavprous ooze of Cyprus' vats ? 
Lo, in yon gale which waves her green cymar, 
With dusky cheeks burnt red 
She sways her heavy head, 
Drunk with the must of her own odourousness ; 

While in a moted trouble the vexed gnats 
Maze, and vibrate, and tease the noontide hush. 

Who girt dissolved lightnings in the grape ? 
Summered the opal with an Irised flush ? 

(Selected Poems, " ODE TO THE SETTING SUN.") 

(III.) I fled Him, down the nights and down the days ; 

I fled Him, down the arches of the years ; 
I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways 

Of my own mind ; and in the mist of tears 
I hid from Him, and under running laughter. 

("THE HOUND OF HEAVEN.") 

(IV.) Lo, in the sanctuaried East, 

Day, a dedicated priest 
In all his robes pontifical exprest, 
Lifteth slowly, lifteth sweetly, 
From out its Orient tabernacle drawn, 
Yon orbed sacrament confest 
Which sprinkles benediction through the dawn ; 
And when the grave procession's ceased, 
The earth with due illustrious rite 
Blessed, ere the frail fingers featly 
Of twilight, violet-cassocked acolyte, 
His sacerdotal stoles unvest 
Sets, for high close of the mysterious feast, 
The sun in august exposition meetly 
Within the flaming monstrance of the West. 

(Selected Poems, " ORIENT ODE.") 



Of Shelley and Keats if reference must be made it 
will suffice to say that, singularly tuneful and marvels 
of pure melody as their own verses are, it is a relief at 



FRANCIS THOMPSON. > -7 55 

times to pass from their earthy sweetness to the loftier 
heights and sublimer beauties of Francis Thompson 
the poet "God-smitten." Contrast the lines from Shelley's 
" Hymn to Intellectual Beauty " (the poem which most of 
all contains his own special " Gospel ") : 

Thy light alone like mist o'er mountains driven, 

Or music by the night wind sent, 

Thro' strings of some still instrument, 

Or moonlight on a midnight stream, 
Gives grace and truth to life's unquiet dream. 

Love, Hope, and Self-esteem, like clouds depart 
And come, for some uncertain moments lent. 
Man were immortal, and omnipotent, 
Didst thou, unknown and awful as thou art, 
Keep with thy glorious train firm state within his 

heart. 

* + + * * 

I vowed that I would dedicate my powers 
To thee and thine have I not kept the vow? 
+ + + + * 

The day becomes more solemn and serene 

When noon is past there is a harmony 

In autumn, and a lustre in its sky, 
Which thro' the summer is not heard or seen, 
As if it could not be, as if it had not been ! 

Thus let thy power, which like the truth 

Of nature on my passive youth 
Descended, to my onward life supply 

Its calm to one who worships thee, 

And every form containing thee, 

Whom, Spirit fair, thy spells did bind 
To fear himself, and love all human kind. 

Or the lines from Keats 

So let me be thy choir, and make a moan 

Upon the midnight hours ; 

Thy voice, thy lute, thy pipe, thy incense sweet 
From swinged censer teeming : 
Thy shrine, thy grove, thy oracle, thy heat 
Of pale-mouthed prophet dreaming. 



5 6 FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

Yes, I will be thy priest, and build a fane 
In some untrodden region of my mind, 
Where branched thoughts, new grown with 

pleasant pain, 
Instead of pines shall murmur in the wind 

and the rest of Keats's " Ode to Psyche " (an ode in which 
he took special pains to express his distinctive thought), 
with the exalted harmony of Thompson's " Hound of 
Heaven," or the latter's poem " To Any Saint," the most 
marvellous compendium of Christian mysticism and the 
Sermon on the Mount, that has ever been penned in poetic 
lines. 



If the message of Shelley was as it seems to have 
been that love and beauty shall endure to unite all 
things ; and the message of Keats, to restore the spirit 
of the Greeks and " Art for Art's sake," that of Francis 
Thompson is the more exalted. For in what does it 
differ, save in the manner of delivery, from that cry of 
the great Augustine, which has rung down the ages 
in ever-increasing volume ? : 

" Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are 
restless until they find their rest in Thee." 

This sentence of the Aristotle of Christianity echoes 
through the poetry of Francis Thompson and if literary 
fame, to be immortal, must be linked with an undying 
message, then, surely, to the poet of " terrible depths and 
triumphant heights " is Immortality assured. 



The Hound of Heaven/ 7 



"The Hound of Heaven/ 7 



"Fear wist not to evade, as Love wist to pursue." 

(The Hound of Heaven.) 



Francis Thompson leapt into fame among those able to 
discern true poetic genius by the chance discovery of the 
verse-set gems contained in a short poem which he com- 
posed when on the verge of destitution and despair. Since 
the day when this singer of golden song wrote on a soiled 
scrap of paper, picked up by him in a London street, the 
lines which brought about his recognition, his works have 
been read and re-read with increasing appreciation, while 
the greatest critics have vied with one another in pro- 
claiming his praise. But if there is one work more than 
the rest of the vagrant Prodigal of Song (albeit not the 
one first alluded to) which has fired the heart and glistened 
the eye, it is his religious ode entitled " The Hound of 
Heaven." This wonderful lyric, which is considered by 
most of the authorities to be Thompson's poetic master- 
piece, came as an inspiration amid the doubt, and darkness, 
and the imperfect faith of other Victorian poets. Through- 
out its lines God is no vague abstraction, but a Presence 
most intimate loving, and eagerly pursuing the soul that 
would find satisfaction elsewhere than in Him. It is, of 
all poems perhaps, the poem of Divine insistency. 



60 FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

Whether the original idea, which developed in course of 
time into "The Hound of Heaven," was first planted in 
the author's mind by the thought of the pursuing love in 
Silvio Pellico's " Dio Amore," or, as seems more likely, 
was suggested by one of the poems of the Spanish mystic 
known as St. John of the Cross (of whom Thompson was 
a close student and admirer), or whether it arose solely 
out of the circumstances of the poet's own life and the 
innate sense, which runs through so many of his verses, of 
the nearness of Heaven and the proximity of God, is a 
matter of surmise. Certain it is that no mystical words 
of such profound power and such soul -stirring sweetness 
have been written in modern times. 

Though it may be said that in a certain sense Thompson 
viewed the world as but the dustbin for the Creator's 
handiwork, he was yet supremely conscious of the beauty 
displayed on every side, even in the body of the lowly 
worm. The exquisite glimpses of the things of Nature, 
those shapers of his own moods, which he incidentally 
presents in the course of the poem as the tremendous 
Lover (God, symbolised as the Hound), pursues His tireless 
quest strike at once the imagination, as surely as the 
impressive symbolism employed, penetrates and illumines 
the soul. 

Here and there one is reminded, by the spirituality of 
thought and phrase, of a similar vein in Crashaw or by 
the fine frenzy of a line, to something akin in Blake 
or Rossetti. To the present writer the lines 



FRANCIS THOMPSON. 61 

I tempted all His servitors, but to find 

My own betrayal in their constancy, 

In faith to Him their fickleness to me, 

Their traitorous trueness, and their loyal deceit 

invariably recall the well-known oxymoron in Tennyson's 
"Elaine": 

His honour rooted in dishonour stood 
And faith, unfaithful, kept him falsely true. 

The idea of the " arches of the years " in the opening 
section 

I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; 
I fled Him, down the arches of the years; 

would undoubtedly be suggested by the bridge of life in 
the lovely " Vision of Mirzah " contributed by Addison to 
the Spectator under date September 1, 1711. This bridge 
(seen by Mirzah after he had listened to the tunes of the 
shepherd-clad genius which reminded him of those heavenly 
airs played to the departed souls of good men, upon 
their first arrival in Paradise, to wear out the impressions 
of their last agonies), consisted of " three score and ten 
entire arches, with several broken arches, which added to 
those that were entire, made up the number about an 
hundred." Such a piece of superfine prose would be 
certain to make a deep impression on Thompson's sus- 
ceptible mind. 

In poetry it is more or less essential that besides the 
outer gems that flash on all alike, there should be some 
that lie below the surface, and need some mental digging 
to unearth. In " The Hound of Heaven " these hidden 



62 FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

gems abound, but they can hardly be said to be too deeply 
buried for the earnest seeker, when once the prevailing 
idea and the nobility of the poet's thought, are grasped. 
The symbolism employed, though often most daring, is 
free from the disfiguring ' eccentricity ' of many mystical 
poets : the thought and diction befit th exalted subject of 
the verse, and transcend all conventions. 

The poem proceeds by way of striking similes, which 
hold the reader spellbound in an atmosphere of spiritual 
elevation : fresh and more towering peaks of mental con- 
ception come into view as the grandeur of the theme 
develops ; the end is in the Valley of Calm, where the 
surrender of the tired soul follows as a natural climax, in 
lines of the most exquisite simplicity. 

The chief interest lies, perhaps, in the genuine humanity \ 
which pervades the poem throughout, and in the wonderful 
mental pictures often conjured up, sometimes by a single 
line. In the few words 

Adown Titanic glooms of chasmed fears ; 
as again in the lines 

I swung the earth a trinket at my wrist ; 
and 

Yet ever and anon a trumpet sounds 
From the hid battlements of eternity ;4- 

a host of conceptions may arise in the mind, without 
exhausting the full meaning of the poet's words. Great 
alike in theme and execution, and in the completeness of its 



FRANCIS THOMPSON. 63 

message, it is safe to say that as a religious poem, " The 
Hound of Heaven " has no superior. It stands unique, 
for all the world and for all time! 

Amid all the artistic trope and perfect poetic imagery, 
certain passages will doubtless appear more noteworthy to 
some than to others, but it will surely be of special interest 
to most to note that it is in the little children's eyes that 
the soul approaches nearest the object of its quest, ere it 
sinks beneath the Hand outstretched caressingly. 

It is a curious fact, not devoid of significance, that the 
poem was constructed at the time that Thompson was 
composing melodies of a very different order the pieces 
varied, sweet, and gay, which make up his volume of 
" Sister Songs," published in 1895. As " The Hound of 
Heaven " appeared in Thompson's first volume of poems, 
issued in 1893, it would seem that the actual year when 
the " poem for all time " was written, may have been either 
1892 or 1893. 

Strange and startling fancies in words ; adjectives that 
illumine like " furnaces in the night " ; deep sounds and 
echoes the sounds of restless humanity in search of the 
world's witchery, the echoes of the message of the Psalmist 
of old, and underlying all, the pleading of the Father 
for His prodigal son : such, in short, is " The Hound of 
Heaven." 



Ode to the Setting Sun/ 7 



' Ode to the Setting Sun/ 7 



Whatever may have been the general method of Francis 
Thompson in settling the final wording of his poems, he 
seems to have been at special pains in giving its ultimate 
form to his " Ode to the Setting Sun." Words, lines, and 
whole passages have been re-shaped to ' list of his mind ' 
since the first appearance of the poem in " Merry 
England." A noticeable change lies in the substitution 
of simpler language, an example of which may be seen 
in the passage altered from 

Thou sway'st thy sceptred beam 
O'er all earth's broad loins teem, 
She sweats thee through her pores of verdurous 

spilth ; 

Thou art light in her light, 
Thou art might in her might, 
Fruitfulness in her fruit, and foison in her tilth 

in the Ode as it originally appeared, to 

Thou sway'st thy sceptred beam 

O'er all delight and dream, 

Beauty is beautiful but in thy glance ; 

And like a jocund maid 

In garland-flowers arrayed, 

Before thy ark earth keeps her sacred dance 

as the lines occur later in the volume of " New Poems." 



68 FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

As the Ode now stands, free from some of the more 
startling archaisms and coinage of words, it must ever 
rank as a great spell-binding poem, a pageant of scintil- 
lating colour and sound. The marvels and undreamt of 
treasures of the wonder-working Sun are drawn out at 
length, and heaped up, through many a poetic line, for 
the beholder's gaze. The regal splendours befitting the 
subject, the ornateness and dignity of the poet's thought, 
the symbolic references and sacramental vision conduct 
the reader along the passage between matter and soul, 
and show him some of the many-splendoured things 
conceivable only by the mind of the Seer. The majestic 
strains of Handel's " Largo " ; the soul-filling sweetness 
of Gounod's " Messe Solonnelle " ; the lights and raptures 
of a De Beriot's " Ninth Concerto " surge into the ears 
as the recital continues. Amid such delights as these is 
the reader carried to, and within, the realms of beauty. 

The Ode is divided into three parts. In the Prelude, 
the setting Sun " a bubble of fire " drops slowly, as 
the poignant music of the violin and harp are borne into 
the soul. In the Ode proper, the note of sadness the 
sun-set mood is continued ; the mystical twins of Time 
Death and Birth come into the poet's mind, " and of 
these two the fairer thing is Death." As in some great 
musical masterpiece, the opening bars low, sad, and 
weird prepare the way for the cymbals' clang and the 
full orchestral effects, so here : nor is it long before the 
" music blasts make deaf the sky." In bewilderingly 
beautiful language the poet proceeds to depict the splen- 



FRANCIS THOMPSON. 69 

dours of the sun's triumphal dying, and to consider the - 
sway of its sceptred beam from the time of its birth 
the time when it burst from the great void's husk and 
leaped " on the throat o' the dusk." The deluge, " when 
the ancient heavens did in rains depart"; the lion, the 
tiger, and the stealthy stepping pard; the entombed trees 
(now the light-bearers of the earth) ; the rose " cupped to 
the marge with beauty," the "draped" tulip, the "snowed" 
lily, the earth itself suckled at the breast of the sun, and 
"scarfed" with the morning light, these and many a 
gorgeous miracle of the sun's working, are examined in 
turn, and over each the sway of the "spectred beam" 
is shown. The wind and the wailing voices that should 
meet from hill, stream, and grove to chant a dirge at 
the red glare of the Sun's fall the Naiads, Dryads, and 
Nereids, and the other nymphs of old, are all conjured 
up in their own wonted haunts. And then the scene 
changes : 

A space, and they fleet, from me. Must ye fade 

O old, essential candours, ye who made 

The earth a living and a radiant thing 

And leave her corpse in our strained, cheated arms ? 

The poet sees in their departure a resemblance to his 
own " vanishing nay, vanished day," and his dark mood 
is only changed by the deferred thought of Eternity, 
whereat "a rifting light burns through the leaden brood- 
ings " of his mind. 

O blessed Sun, thy state 

Uprisen or derogate 

Dafts me no more with doubt ; I seek and find. 



70 FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

In the opening lines of another of his poems, the " Orient 
Ode," the poet sees in the Sunrise a symbol of the 
Benediction Service of the Catholic Church. Now, in 
the Setting Sun, he sees a radiant image of the King- 
maker of Creation, a type indeed of Calvary : 

Thou art of Him a type memorial, 
Like Him thou hang'st in dreadful pomp of blood 
Upon thy western rood. 

The vein of triumph thenceforth predominates ; for it 
is the falling acorn buds the tree, and as 

There is nothing lives but something dies 

so, too 

There is nothing dies but something lives- 
and though birth and death are inseparable on earth 
They are twain yet one, and Death is Birth. 



In the after-strain (the concluding part of the Ode) 
the note of triumph rings again : a message from the 
gentle Queen of Heaven leaves the poet " light of cheer," 
and he gives thanks for his griefs : 

The restless windward stirrings of whose feather 
Prove them the brood of immortality. 

The " Ode to the Setting Sun " (written at Storrington 
in 1889) possesses a unique interest, inasmuch as it was 
the first poem of length that Thompson wrote after his 
rescue from the life of poverty in London, and afforded the 
first all-convincing revelation of the poet's genius. 



FRANCIS THOMPSON. 71 

One of the many functions of poetry is to penetrate \ 
beyond the reach of science, and reveal, in reverential 
way, certain hidden truths of nature which, without the 
imagination of the poet to cross the abysses of dividing 
space, might remain but irritating and unpictured mysteries. 
Canon Sheehan expresses this in The Intellectuals : " She 
(Nature) retreats, as we advance, and gathers up her 
skirts, lest the very swish of them should reveal her 
hiding places. There is one, and one only, to whom she 
reveals herself, and lifts up her veil : and that is her poet." 

Such a poet was Wordsworth ; such a poet, in a large 
measure, was Emerson. Such a poet, too, letting in more 
than the rest, a flood of many-coloured light upon the 
created world (as in his " Ode to the Setting Sun "), was 
Francis Thompson ! 




Thompson's Last Poem. 



Thompson's Last Poem. 



When Francis Thompson died, early in the winter of 
1907, he left among his papers a short unfinished poem 
bearing the double title: 

In no Strange Land. 
The Kingdom of God is within you. 

which is noteworthy as the last and one of the most 
characteristic of his works. For in these triumphing 
stanzas there is held in retrospect as Mr. Meynell puts 
it the days and nights of human dereliction which the 
poet spent besides London's river, and in the shadow 
but all radiance to him of Charing Cross. Obviously 
differing from his polished masterpiece, " The Hound of 
Heaven," the shorter poem bears yet a resemblance in 
that it treats of the world to be discerned by the eyesight 
that is spiritual, and exhibits a conception of equal 
daring. Tnus the splendid audacity which, in the one, 
symbolises God as the pursuing Hound, depicts, in the 
other, Jacob's ladder pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing 
Cross, and Christ walking on the water of the Thames/ 

. Though Thompson has been styled the " mighty mystic," 
he has many passages of sweet simplicity. His lines on 
a Snowflake and his verses entitled " Daisy " (verses 



76 FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

which may be compared to the "Lucy" or "We are 
Seven " of Wordsworth), are such as a child can under- 
stand ; and in the last gift of his muse he has left an 
epitome of his life's verse, expressed in a clear and striking 
form, the beauty and significance of which few can miss. 

It is when dealing with his favourite subject of the 
intimacy of God that the poet, whose heart was warmed 
by the Divine Presence as he sold matches in the street, 
displays his greatest charm. Here, compressed in the 
space of twenty-four lines, is to be found the very inmost 
of his thought, combined with a lustrous simplicity befitting 
the vehicle of his final message. Many who find them- 
selves breathless in the elevation of "The Hound of 
Heaven" will, in the later lines, be able to follow the 
mind of the poet with ease, and grasp the import of his 
teaching to the full. 

It has been said of another of our English poets 
(Chatterton) that he was " Poetry's Martyr." The descrip- 
tion applies to Thompson also, but in a far nobler sense. 
The hopes of his youth blighted crushed, as it seemed, 
on every side it was the equally bitter lot of Francis 
Thompson to learn by experience that "turning love's 
bread is bought at hunger's price," and to find himself 
(in words of his own telling) : 

Like one who sweats before a despot's gate, 
Summoned by some presaging scroll of fate, 
And knows not whether kiss or dagger wait ; 
And all so sickened is his countenance, 
That courtiers buzz, " Lo, doomed ! " and look at 
him askance. 



FRANCIS THOMPSON. 77 

Yet, racked as he was, he stood true to his visions with 
enduring patience, and with a courage that has no counter- 
part on the field of battle. His was the martyrdom of 
living : to deliver his message, he prolonged his life, so full 
of physical pain, to the utmost. That he lived so long, 
was due to his unconquerable mind, his indomitable will to 
live to live and sanctify the bodily suffering of his later 
years. 

Through all the outer darkness of his uncompanioned 
days, the poet of the light within remained the same 
rapt celebrant of the soul, feasting his gaze on the 
world invisible, and proclaiming the high things that lie 
beyond the lowly. The very bitterness of his trials only 
strengthened his assurance in the reality of the hidden 
things of which he testifies. What wonder, then, that 
his last testimony should be of such special significance 
and potentiality ? 

The angels keep their ancient places ; 
Turn but a stone, and start a wing ! 
'Tis ye, 'tis your estranged faces, 
That miss the many-splendoured thing. 

But (when so sad thou canst not sadder) 
Cry ; and upon thy so sore loss 
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob's ladder 
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross. 

Yea, in the night, my Soul, my daughter, 
Cry ; clinging Heaven by the hems ; 
And lo, Christ walking on the water 
Not of Genesareth, but Thames ! 

Surely, the angels must have clapped their hands with 
delight, as the poem proceeded. 



78 FRANCIS THOMPSON. 

What "The Hound of Heaven" is among the poet's 
longer pieces, his poem of the Vision of Thames 
unpolished and unfinished though it be is among the 
shorter. Both are adorned by tears and sunshine, and 
both are the channels of his profoundest message 
Heaven in Earth, and God in Man. 




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